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“No cheer, Zand. I’m frightened,” she admitted, as I finished and faced her. “You heard Matos in there. He has fallen in with that—that cult. If he finds out, I don’t know what he’ll do!” She began to cry, then stepped forward, falling onto my chest.
I did the only thing I could: held her and tried to comfort her. “I’ve known Matos forever,” I said, trying to reassure her. “He’s a good man, even if he’s confused—”
“Exactly what are you doing out here with my wife, Zand?”
Dawna spun out of my light embrace, her surprise easily mistaken for guilt. Matos looked puzzled, hurt, and a little angry—the normal things anyone might feel upon seeing one’s wife and best friend embracing in the dark. He put a hand to his sword.
“Matos—” I looked at my oldest and dearest friend. It was time—no, long past time—to drop the pretense. “Damn it, you fool, I’m her father!”
“Father?” he repeated, as Dawna looked back and forth between us. She realized what I was about to reveal, and I saw how that frightened her even more than the Cult of the Born.
“No!” she pleaded, then turned to her husband. “Matos, don’t listen to him, believe of us what you will!” Loyalty was her great virtue. I had seen to that.
“You can’t be her father,” Matos scowled, ignoring her plea. “We’re all of an age. What kind of fool do you take me for?”
“The kind of fool who is a good man, but has been blinded by fear, half-truths, and outright lies,” I said, looking him in the eye.
“Zand, no!” Dawna turned back to me.
I crossed my arms, more to reassure Matos than out of exasperation. “Dawna, he’s been my best friend for years. I’ve trusted Matos with my life. I should have never kept this from him.”
Before Dawna could answer, Matos laid a hand—a gentle hand—on her shoulder. “That an embrace between you two is innocent, I can believe. Even a brief indiscretion, I could forgive. But Zand, don’t try to justify what I saw with outrageous claims. That only makes me suspect you both.”
“Six years ago, Matos,” I said. “What happened?”
“You mean when Audra ran off with the butcher’s son, not a week before we were to be wed?” Matos looked down; perhaps the memory of that betrayal was already twisting his guts. He gave me a thin smile. “You took me out of harm’s way and got me roaring drunk. But what has that to do with this?”
“Walk that old path again with me, friend. What did you tell me when the spirits loosened your tongue?”
He shrugged. “That… that I had been unsure of her for a while. That I’d been turned by her physical charms, but she showed herself neither intelligent nor honest. Nor loyal, in the end.”
“And you said you would marry a woman with the head of a donkey if she were only clever, honest, and loyal.” We both laughed at the memory. “And a month later, I introduced you to Dawna.”
“Indeed.” Matos relaxed a moment, and smiled. His hand slipped off Dawna’s shoulder to her waist. “I’ve said ever since that I am forever in your debt for that. It was like she was made for me.”
“Matos… she was. I Made her for you. Not with a donkey’s head, mind you, but I thought you would forgive me for omitting that detail.”
As usual, my attempt at a jest fell wide of the mark. “What? Are you saying you’re a Maker?” He pushed Dawna away and drew his sword. “Tell me that’s a lie, Zand. Tell me!”
“It’s not a lie, Matos!” Dawna threw herself between us. “I am Made. Zand is my father. He Made me to be your wife! And I swear, if you strike at him, I will leave you!”
I took advantage of the distraction to Make a champion. He strode forth, skirting the midden, facing Matos with sword drawn. “Put away your weapon, O Born, and there will be no bloodshed this night.” Not the first words I would have preferred one of my Made to utter, but necessity ruled the moment.
“See? This is the evil of the Makers!” Matos spat. “They Make not men, but empty shells!”
“That is the half-truth you were taught,” I said. “All the Born are created in the image of the Creator, with the power of creation. You know the rhyme:
Ruler or knave,
The Creator has gave
A part of Himself to us all.
Woman or man,
All of us can
On the power of creation call.
Some create stories,
Some create songs,
Some create sculpture or art.
Others are given
The power of living—
Creation that comes from the heart.
Look at your wife, my friend. Is she an empty shell? Speak true!”